The Future: The Greatest Story Never Told?

Article excerpt

Some politicians are thinking about the future. Can the media do it, too?

As technological change and globalization speed up, political leaders are looking further into the future. Even as they wrestle with daily crises, many are stressing foresight as vital. Anticipating the future and preparing policy options for voters' consideration is becoming the essence of democratic leadership.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recently launched such a visioning of Brazil in the twenty-first century. President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic has convened his Forum 2000 explorations since 1998. An international conference on our global future was inaugurated at Tamkang University in Taiwan with the support of President Chen Shui-bian.

These new democratic leaders are embroiled in familiar issues of technological change: "old economy" to "new economy" restructuring; conflicts over energy sources, climate, and pollution; poverty gaps; and workplace and consumer protection standards. They know they must look beyond the horizon to address these concerns. Just as global corporations plan their market strategies and products decades ahead, so, too, must today's governments and political leaders.

Futures research, planning, and forecasting are emerging from the back rooms of corporations and market-research firms and into the daylight of public conferences on the future of the whole human family on our interdependent planet. But only a few democratic leaders--and fewer journalists--understand foresight and the growing need for it.

The media covering futures conferences are still mystified. They do not see wide-ranging scenarios of global futures as "news." But the definition of news is changing: from daily reports of scattered events and scenes of conflict and disaster to a deeper probing of the underlying forces and processes that drive events. Many schools of journalism now sponsor such inquiries.

The media can learn to report on future trends and research. They can expand their slavish overreporting of economic forecasts, technological hype, and corporate earnings and profit projections. Reporting on forecasts of social trends, resource availability, population, and technological impacts on people and the environment merit equal attention. …